Raith exit cup as Locke tastes first defeat
Raith Rovers 0 Alloa Athletic 1
Raith Rovers are effectively out of the Betfred Cup after a disappointing home defeat to lower league Alloa Athletic this afternoon.
The result leaves Raith on eight points in Group D, which won’t be enough to see them through to the last 16 as one of the four best-placed runners-up as they will be overtaken by either Dundee United or Dunfermline, who meet tomorrow.
After wins over Cove and Forfar, and an impressive penalty shoot-out victory away to Premiership side Ross County last week, there was plenty positivity ahead of the match.
However, it was back to earth with a bump as Raith laboured for 90 minutes against a hard-working, well-organised Alloa side, who qualify for the next round as unbeaten group winners.
It was an out of sorts Rovers performance compared to Dingwall the previous week. Stand-outs such as Bobby Barr and Ross Callachan were largely annonymous, while up front Declan McManus and Lewis Vaughan were mostly ineffective.
To rub salt in Rovers’ wounds, it was an ex who came back to haunt them as former striker Greig Spence, who looks to have been hitting the gym since leaving Stark’s Park two years, struck the winner.
Alloa were worth their half-time lead, and despite dominating possession after the break, and handing Rudi Skacel his debut from the bench, a lack of creativity meant a Raith equaliser never looked likely as the visitors dug in for victory.
Afterwards, Gary Locke spoke of his frustration after tasting defeat for the first time as Raith boss.
“Everything we did really well last week, we didn’t do today,” he said.
“We didn’t move the ball quick enough and we didn’t make the right decisions in the final third.
“We switched off at their goal and it cost us because it played right into their hands.
“They sat back and frustrated us, and we didn’t have enough quality in the final third today to break them down.”
The warning signs were loud and clear in the early stages as Alloa put Raith under pressure, and only a brilliant block from man mountain Jean-Yves M’voto prevented Spence from finding the target on 13 minutes.
It took Raith until 19 minutes to threaten when Declan McManus fed Lewis Vaughan in the box and the striker set himself up for a volley that he fired across goal and just wide.
Alloa keeper Neil Parry was then forced into a double save on 22 minutes. He couldn’t hold a McManus piledriver from 25 yards, but was quick to react to block Kevin McHattie’s rebound.
The defining moment of a scrappy game arrived on 34 minutes when Alloa midfielder Jon Robertson provided the defence-splitting pass for Spence to run through and clip a sublime finish past Kevin Cuthbert.
Only a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Kyle Benedictus prevented Alloa from doubling their lead before the break as the defender stretched out a leg to stop Iain Flannigan racing through on goal.
The Wasps were looking strong against a flat-footed home side, and while Raith’s share of possession improved after the break, their quality of play did not.
The introduction of subs Skacel and Joel Coustrain gave Raith a brief spark after the hour mark and led to their one and only chance of the second half.
Jason Thomson hit the by-line and his cut back fell to Coustrain who saw his goal bound shot blocked by a defender, with the ball dropping just wide of the post.
Raith players surrounded referee Kevin Clancy to claim the ballhad struck a hand - the suggestions from Raith officials afterwards was that the game footage suggested it was a stonewaller - but the whistler pointed for a corner.
Thereafter Rovers huffed and puffed, pushing plenty bodies forward without ever looking like scoring.
This was not the result Raith wanted ahead of next week’s league opener in Ayr, but it might just prove a timely wake-up call.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, McHattie (Stewart 77), Callachan, M’voto, Benedictus, Johnston (Coustrain 56), Vaughan (Skacel 57), Barr, Davidson, McManus. Not used: Lennox, Matthews, Osei, Roberts.
Alloa Athletic: Parry, Taggart, Waters, Graham, Marr, Goodwin (Holmes 75), Longworth (Layne 65), Robertson, Spence, Kirkpatrick (Cawley 71), Flannigan. Not used: McDowall, Wilson, Hoggan, Hetherington.
Referee: Kevin Clancy